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Grim global status report on road safety

/ 05:04 AM December 09, 2018

Today, 3,700 people will die on the world’s roads.

The same will happen tomorrow, and in all the days to follow.

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Many who die will be children and young adults. For people aged 5-29 years, there is no greater threat to their lives than a road traffic crash.

Many who die will be poor. In fact, a person is three times more likely to die of a road traffic collision in a low-income country than in a high-income country. While low-income countries have 1 percent of the world’s vehicles, they constitute 13 percent of the world’s deaths.

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More than half of victims of fatal crashes are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In other words, they are people who are not traveling in cars. Most would not even be able to afford one.

Yet most transportation systems around the world have been designed for motor vehicles. The price we have paid for this is unacceptably high.

It is time for countries to muster the necessary political will and adopt a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to prevent these tragedies. With the upcoming elections, we should demand that road safety and healthier transportation be a top political agenda so we can protect the lives of Filipinos.

Ignorance about what to do is no excuse, because strategies are known and have been proven to prevent road traffic deaths and injuries in many countries.

They include better legislation around risks such as speeding and failing to use seat-belts and helmets; safer road infrastructure like sidewalks and dedicated lanes for cyclists and motorcyclists; improved vehicle standards such as those that mandate electronic stability control and advanced braking; and enhanced emergency care services.

In the Philippines, there are already laws on managing speed, seatbelt and helmet use, drug and drunk driving, and distracted driving. But sound and widespread enforcement of these regulations remain a major challenge. A bill on child restraints has been passed by  Congress and will soon become a law once signed by the President. There are existing bills on pedestrian safety, transportation safety and emergency medical systems. All of these legislative initiatives contribute toward better road safety in the country.

A new report by the World Health Organization, however, notes that while these measures have contributed to reductions in road traffic deaths in recent years in 48 middle- and high-income countries, the situation is getting worse in 104 countries. Not a single low-income country has demonstrated a reduction in overall deaths, in large part because these interventions are lacking.

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This can be seen in the Philippines, where the death rate from road crashes has continually increased over the years despite various efforts by  government and other road safety stakeholders. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority indicate that there were 11,274 deaths from road crashes in 2016, 65 percent higher than the 6,916 deaths registered in 2006. The government, through its Philippine Road Safety Action Plan 2017-2022, now seeks to turn the tide and reduce road traffic deaths by 20 percent by 2022.

The more we make progress toward reconceiving the way our road networks are designed, operated and funded for the benefit of all who use them, the better off we will be.

Safer roads will not only prevent injury, they will also allow for more walking and cycling. This would in turn help to prevent some of the leading causes of death and disability, like heart and lung diseases, cancer, diabetes and depression.

In terms of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which governments agreed in 2015, ensuring safety on the roads will facilitate achievement not only of the targets linked to road safety, but also to those associated with health, environment, education and employment, among others.

They are all predicated on being able to move around in safety.

Safe roads will also ensure the livability and sustainability of our cities, where more than half of the world’s people currently live.

It is at both national and municipal levels that drastic action is needed to reverse current trends, achieve the targets we have set for ourselves, and save millions of lives.

In the few moments you have read this, another 10 of the total 1.35 million annual road traffic deaths will have occurred, shattering lives forever. It is time to put an end to this manmade disaster.

[The global status report on road safety 2018 can be accessed at http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_safety_status/2018/en/]

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Dr. Gundo Weiler is the World Health Organization representative in the Philippines.

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TAGS: Gundo Weiler, Inquirer Commentary, Road accidents, vehicular accidents, WHO, World Health Organization
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